Hot Line To Trouble: Should Parents Be Giving In To Their Children's
Demands And Buying Them Mobile Phones?
January 13, 2000
HOW many of us have watched a train carriage or bus full of adults
instinctively reach for their mobile phones - only to realise that the
familiar ring is coming from a school child's rucksack?
The recent revelation that almost 40% of people in the UK now have mobile
phones can come as little or no surprise to anyone.
But the mobile phone is far from being a purely adult phenomenon - it has
also become the latest desirable accessory for children, outselling
PlayStations, TVs and computers over Christmas.
The percentage of under-18s using mobile phones has risen from 15% in 1998
to 35% last September. That figure is projected to reach at least 70% by
Increasingly, the mobile phone companies are targeting younger and younger
customers. Gimmicks such as coloured covers and icon-based messages such as
teddy bears, smiley faces and broken hearts have proved popular with
And in the not so distant future mobile phones look destined to be linked to
But should parents be giving into their children's demands and buying them
There are obvious benefits such as round-the-clock contact, which could
prove useful in emergencies. No parent likes to imagine their child stranded
if a bus does not turn up or a promised lift does not materialise. A mobile
also allows children to speak to their friends while keeping the family's
main phone free.
But there could be serious drawbacks to letting your child loose with a
mobile phone, however much you trust them to use it sensibly.
Scientists are already concerned about the possible health risks for
Dr Gerard Hyland, a physicist from the University of Warwick, is among those
who believe that it could be potentially very dangerous for young children
to use mobile phones.
Hyland, a specialist in the effect of low intensity radiation, says: "The
problem is the electro magnetic emissions which come out in bursts from the
body of a mobile phone. There is a certain frequency pattern in the emission
that the brain happens to recognise. In children below the age of 12 the
stability of the brain could be undermined and disrupted because their brain
is in a more vulnerable state.
"At the moment there is no evidence but the worry is that the problems could
take time to manifest themselves.
"The other problem is that a child's head absorbs the maximum amount of
radiation because of its smaller size and this could potentially be very
damaging. My advice to parents being asked by their child to give them a
mobile phone is don't even think about it.
"I think it is despicable that the industry is targeting children."
Hyland warns that the radiation from mobile phones could also affect
chemical activity in the brain.
He says: "The blood brain barrier which keeps infections out of the brain
could be made more permeable and that could increase the risk of
Hyland is keen to stress that not everybody would be affected in the same
way, but he adds: "If it was your child the problem would be 100%".
The mobile phone industry claims that all mobiles produce less microwaves
than even the new recommended limits.
But Hyland says that this only addresses the heating ability, which is just
part of the problem.
He says: "There are other sensitivities not addressed by the safety
regulations. For example flashing lights at a certain speed are banned on
television because of the risk of seizures for epileptics. This has nothing
to do with the brightness of the light, it has to do with its speed per
Storing up health risks for the future may just be part of the problem.
According to Dr Sidney Crown, a consultant psychotherapist, there could be
real social damage involved with the widespread use of mobile phones among
He says: "I am worried about the potential for harassment. I think it could
be a very nasty tool for bullying as the caller could remain anonymous. I
would certainly recommend that mobile phone ownership was kept for
The worry is that it can be difficult to monitor who your children are
calling or who is calling them. In fact there has already been a case of
'phone roulette' in which two Worthing schoolgirls played truant to meet a
boy in Eccles, Manchester, who they had met by ringing random numbers.
Dr Crown is also concerned about the knock-on effect from buying a child
such an expensive toy.
He says: "It doesn't just apply to mobile phones but there is a worry of
giving children everything they demand at such an early age which ends up
leaving little for the child to desire. I am also unsure if young children
are up to the responsibility of looking after a mobile phone.
"I would also not wish to encourage the couch potato mentality. The
conversations I have heard between children on mobile phones have been
totally trivial. They appear to be using it to make time pass. It is too
negative and too passive a pastime."
Finally, parents could be counting the cost in terms of cash. Unless you
operate a pay-as-you-talk scheme there is the real risk of your child
running up a huge bill. Ahmed Butt, a solicitor and debt counsellor at the
Mary Ward Legal Centre in Bloomsbury, central London, said 10% of his
clients were struggling to pay off their children's mobile bills.
The new pre-pay phones, which can be bought for as little as GBP40 are
proving extremely popular with parents but they downside is that they do
carry fairly high airtime charges.
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